Purchasing and Preparing Lamb: The Basics You Need To Know
Provided by the American Lamb Board and Chef Tim Love
The family is coming over for a festive spring dinner but you don't want to serve yet another casserole . . . How about Lamb? It seems so elegant, but it really is easy, especially if you are armed with the basics.
What To Look For When Purchasing Lamb:
Lamb is widely available in grocery stores and gourmet food retailers across the country. When shopping, look for American Lamb as it typically yields more meat on the bone than imported lamb. Also, most American lamb is fed mixed grains and grasses giving the meat a milder flavor than its European counterparts. When shopping for a cut, look for meat that has a soft pink to red coloring with white marbling.
How to Store/Freeze Lamb:
Fresh lamb should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer immediately after purchasing. Refrigerate fresh lamb at 40 degrees or below. Ground lamb or stew meat should be used within 2 days. Lamb chops and roasts should be used within 3-5 days. If you plan to freeze lamb for long periods of time, be sure to wrap the original packaging with airtight freezer wrap or place in an airtight freezer bag to prevent freezer burn. To maintain optimum quality, frozen lamb should be used within 3-4 months.
How to Thaw Frozen Lamb:
In the refrigerator - once frozen lamb has thawed in the refrigerator, lamb roasts and chops should be used within 3-5 days and ground lamb or stew meat should be used within 1-2 days.
In cold water - leave frozen lamb in its packaging, making sure it is air tight. If not, transfer it to a leak-proof bag. Keep the lamb submerged in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes to continue thawing. Cook lamb immediately after thawing. It should not be re-frozen unless cooked first.
In the microwave - As with the cold water method, when frozen lamb is thawed in the microwave, it must be cooked immediately. It should not be re-frozen unless cooked first.
For those that don't have a lot of experience cooking with lamb, determining when it is done is the biggest challenge. An overcooked rack of lamb is an expensive mistake and carving into an undercooked roast can be an embarrassment at a dinner party. Don't rely on guesswork - a good meat thermometer will provide reliable results. DO NOT cut into a roast or chop to check doneness. Use an instant read thermometer to give you a quick, accurate reading.
Lamb, like any cut of meat, always benefits from rest before serving - the rest allows the meat's juices to settle. Give thin cuts like chops five minutes before serving and allow 20 minutes before carving roasts. Keep in mind, as the meat rests, its internal temperature typically rises 5-10 degrees. Remove lamb from cooking heat when the thermometer reads 5-10 degrees less than your desired temperature.
To ensure lamb remains safe throughout cooking, the USDA makes recommendations for safe cooking temperatures.
About the Author:
Chef Tim Love, winner of Iron Chef Chili Cook-off, is best known for his farmers market cattle drives featured on The Today Show and Food Network. Love's flagship restaurant, The Lonesome Dove in Fort Worth, Texas, has earned him critical acclaim. In 2007, he opened his fourth restaurant, The Love Shack. For more information visit ChefTimLove.com.
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